Legislative activities tree diagram

I’m still thinking about the basic legislative activities, and the order of them.

In a previous post, I proposed a set of activities that drew distinctions between choosing issues to address, deciding the objectives and criteria for laws about each issue, and proposing laws. Despite what I said before, I now think this does represent a sequence of activities, but it’s an order of logic, and not meant to dictate the actual order in practice. For example, choosing issues is logically prior to writing bills, but often issues are discovered or clarified through the process of writing bills.

Terry pointed out that while there is value in this logical order, in actual practice advocates are likely to jump immediately into proposing laws, and that the lawmaking process should allow for this. So I wrote, “there ought to be a way to get the benefits of both the top-down and bottom-up kinds of thinking.”

Terry then wrote, “I think there should be a grass-roots bill initiative route, which might use petitions or something. This route may be dominated by emotional issues of the day, as well as self-interested special interests. So, I think we also need a somewhat detached, logical long view route. This long-view approach I assign to a meta legislature that hears experts, etc. about important issues that aren’t currently “in the news” like perhaps the infrastructure deficit, or the like.”

Following Terry’s suggestion, I’m thinking that during the “choose issues” process, there should be two routes – one “top down” route that looks first at the big picture (goals for the polity, which issues aren’t adequately addressed by current legislation, etc.), and a “bottom up route” in which advocates of all kinds have the chance to submit and argue for their issues, and for their rationale for why they think these issues need bills written. In addition, I’m thinking that after issues have been chosen, there should be a chance to add or change issues based on information that comes out of the stage of proposing bills. And in the same way, even though I think it’s useful to discuss criteria for bills before proposing.

Below is a tree diagram with a slightly modified version of the table of activities at the top of this post. I’ve added two “feedback arrows,” because the process of writing bills in general will probably bring up new issues that need to be addressed, and within the process of writing bills, outlining bills will probably bring up new objectives and criteria (there could be many more feedback arrows, but that would crowd the diagram). I’ve also added “advocacy” and “deliberation” within the stages of choosing issues and writing bills, and deleted the parts about “setting goals for the polity” and “evaluating legislation against the goals” (I still like this idea, but I think it makes things too complicated for now).

I would great appreciate hearing any thoughts you folks have about this.

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4 Responses

  1. David, your chart is a little difficult to read (at least on my screen), so it’s hard to comment on it specifically. In the case of the bottom-up initiatives, how would it be decided which initiatives were selected for the bill-writing process — a super-sortive committee or public votation? And in the case of the top-down process who gets to pick the top dogs? We need to resolve these issues of democratic legitimacy first before getting into the finer details of the legislative stages. You have to get the principles right before putting them into practice.

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  2. Keith, you’re right! The diagram is too small to read on my screen, too. Sorry about that – before I post any more diagrams, I’ll figure out how to get the size right.

    You asked “how would it be decided which initiatives were selected for the bill-writing process — a super-sortive committee or public votation? And in the case of the top-down process who gets to pick the top dogs?” In this case, I’m deliberately postponing the questions about “who and how” (actors and processes), and trying to outline the activities that more or less *have* to be done, regardless of who carries them out, or how. My rationale is that if we can get clear about what has to be done (choosing issues, writing bills, voting on bills, etc.) that will lead to a much clearer set of questions about who should do those things. (I have to admit I also went beyond just “necessary activities,” in trying to respond to Terry’s points about top down and bottom up processes).

    You wrote, “We need to resolve these issues of democratic legitimacy first before getting into the finer details of the legislative stages. You have to get the principles right before putting them into practice.” I certainly agree with you that answering the right questions in the right order matters a lot (Yoram has made the same point), but I think we may disagree about what that order is. In fact, I’m very interested in figuring it out. So far, I’m thinking it would go something like this:
    1. Criteria – “what are the criteria for a “good” legislative system?”
    2. Activities – “what are the main activities that must (or should?) be carried out in order to make legislation?”
    3. Actors – “Who should carry out which activities?”
    4. Process – “How should these activities be carried out?”

    What are the principles that you think need to be decided first? Do you mean things like what powers should be allocated to allotted bodies, vs elected bodies, vs the whole people?

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  3. > The diagram is too small to read

    Clicking on the image produces a larger version.

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  4. David, I suppose what I’m questioning is whether it’s our role to go into details regarding the legislative process. Apart from Terry, few of us on this forum have any professional experience of actual legislatures, so it might seem a little presumptuous for us to make these fine-grained distinctions. What we are aware of (along with most thoughtful and concerned citizens) is how the legislative process doesn’t seem to work very well and, due to our interest in sortition, how it might be improved. It strikes me that this falls into your categories 1, 3 and 4, so I wonder if it’s helpful at this stage to go too far into 2 — I just don’t want us to get too bogged down in detail (especially on a forum like this where few people have the time to study it as carefully as it merits). Most successful political typologies (Aristotle, Polybius, Montesquieu etc) can easily be memorised and written on the back of an envelope.

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